Graduate degrees

**Elle, Bee and Jackson are not their real names. They have their own independant lives and so I’m not using their real names at their request. (We had a meeting and everything, including a gavel. I got schooled. The end.)

Many years ago,I was in graduate school, picking up some advanced math stuff when I was hired to teach in LA Unified. At the time, I thought I was head hunted because I was such a dynamite teacher. It wasn’t until later that I realized LA was desperate for teachers and would do about anything to keep them, especially if they were teaching in the inner city. In a year round school.

That would be me.

The District paid for my advanced degree in SPANISH at USC. It took me about a year to become A level fluent and pick up what was then called a Bilingual Certification. It meant more money. Because I had walked into the job with ZERO Spanish, I found myself being mentored by the awesomely top heavy administration down on Spring Street. I was called downtown and OFFERED monies to go to graduate school. I would continue to teach, of course.

So before computers, I started my two year adventure. I finished about a week before I had my son, Bee.  Since I was the only Spanish speaker in the house, I decided that I would only speak Spanish to my baby. Jackson, his father/my husband, wasn’t crazy about that idea only because he did want us talking about him behind his back while he was in the same room. As if.

When my daughter came along, she too, was in on the experiment. We were by then, living in a South American professional neighborhood in Downey. I wanted to totally immerse my children into a Latin culture. My son attended a school where he was the ONLY white kid, but he was smart and fluent and at the time the schools were doing whole language to teach English. He took to it like a duck to water. He could already read in Spanish, so all he had to do was learn to speak English.

The upshot was that Elle, my daughter, didn’t speak English until she was in kinder. For her, it was as simple as arranging to NOT take a nap in the afternoons. If she went to the morning  Bilingual kinder, she would have to nap. If she went to the afternoon English kinder, she could skip the nap, since she would be in school during nap time. I did try to explain that she didn’t SPEAK English yet…and she asked me if I could speak English. Well, of course. Well then, she could learn it. How hard would it be? She too, could already read in Spanish and that summer, we did a crash course in English with her…which included spending time in Utah with her cousins who definitely did not speak Spanish. Six weeks later, she was fluent. (She was probably conversant in English already. “NO!” “Stop!” “I’ll tell!”)

We also listened to Bible Stories, Hap Palmer and Little Tot tapes in English and Spanish….she already knew the Spanish versions; she just had to fill her head with the English ones. Once you know the thrilling stories of La Caparosita Roja (Red Riding Hood), Tres Cerditos  (Three Pigs) and La Galinetta Roja (The Little Red Hen) , it was pretty seamless.

Back to LA, after Bee but before Elle. My mentor had found monies for me to go to UCLA for a degree in mathematics. Was I interested? Same deal…I’d be teaching (well, that was the year I was bilingual co-ordinator which is as far as I EVER want to go into administration. I really hate teachers and their problems even more than I hate problem children and crazed parents). They would pay for the tuition, books, a small stipend….was I interested?

I was more curious than interested. I’m not really a math person. I am much more interested in how small children can learn math thru activities. I was very involved with Math Their Way and using concrete tools to teach math. I was also very busy writing  my own books to follow the science curricula I was using for whole language acquisition.  I was also interested in overcoming my own math phobias….so how could an MA in Math hurt?
It was a really interesting two years. I learned so much not only about math but about how people think mathematically. It’s not magic. It’s sort of like learning to juggle or knit….for me, it was harnessing everything I knew about learning and utilizing it in a mathematical language.
I taught the eight years I had promised the District for their help in obtaining my MA degrees. By then, I was teaching as an adjunct and thinking about a PhD…except what I really love to do is teach children. I don’t love teaching theory to adults and with a doctorate, that was where I was heading. I really LIKE being with little children all day.

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